Liturgical Musicians, liturgy preparers, priests, deacons, and congregations will find pastoral guidance for their liturgical roles in Sing to the Lord: Music in Divine Worship (STL), the new document on liturgical music issued by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB). While reflecting the priorities of recent liturgical documents and the 2002 General Instruction of the Roman Missal (GIRM), STL recognizes the diversity of the Church in the United States and acknowledges that pastoral decisions concerning liturgical music must be made at the local level. Thus, the document encourages thorough training and ongoing formation for priests, deacons, and liturgical musicians. STL itself will serve as a helpful tool in such efforts.
Approved by 88 percent of the bishops at the November 2007 meeting of the USCCB, STL replaces two documents issued years earlier by the Bishops' Committee on the Liturgy (BCL, now called the Committee on Divine Worship): Music in Catholic Worship (MCW), issued in 1972, and Liturgical Music Today (LMT), issued in 1982. A brief look at these documents will provide some background for reading and interpreting the new one.
The oft-quoted MCW was issued by the BCL in 1972, shortly after the promulgation of the current Sacramentary and Lectionary, to provide direction as the Church in the United States implemented the post-conciliar liturgy and developed a repertoire of congregational music in the vernacular. The document focused primarily on music for the eucharistic liturgy, as definitive translations of other sacramental rituals, rites, and the Liturgy of the Hours had not yet been issued. MCW provided two notable tools to assist those evaluating music for worship, especially the large amount of new music being written in a variety of styles. First, MCW made the distinction between style and quality, indicating that musicians ought not judge unworthy all the music of a particular style. The Church recognizes the value and usefulness of music of varying styles. Quality must be judged by comparing pieces written within a particular style.
Second, MCW presented three judgments by which the appropriateness of a piece of music was to be judged: musical, liturgical, and pastoral. The effect was to say that a high-quality piece of music, for example, must be appropriate to the liturgy and fitting for use at a particular celebration by a particular community. Multiple values are at stake in the choice of liturgical music.
Ten years later, the BCL issued LMT as a companion document to consider the ritual books approved after 1972 and to explore a number of pastoral issues that had begun to receive attention—including the use of music of many cultures, the use of recorded music, and the reproduction of copyrighted material. Though they proved influential for many years, these documents were issued before the publication of many ritual books now in use, including the Rite of Pastoral Care of the Sick, the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults, the Order of Christian Funerals, and the 2002 GIRM; hence the need for a new document.
STL provides considerably more detail in its 259 paragraphs than did its predecessors, which together contained 158 paragraphs. The document is presented in five major sections: Why We Sing, The Church at Prayer, The Music of Catholic Worship, Preparing Music for Catholic Worship, and The Musical Structure of Catholic Worship. The last section comprises roughly half the document. While introduced as a set of guidelines that are designed to provide direction, STL refers to music-related introductory notes and rubrics in approved liturgical books, including the GIRM, that carry the authority of ecclesiastical law.
Those familiar with MCW and LMT will recognize a good deal of familiar and time-tested material, including a nuanced version of MCW's three judgments. Liturgical, pastoral, and musical judgments must be considered together as part of one evaluation, made in a spirit of collaboration by those involved (STL, 126). The document continues the distinction of value and style, noting that "sufficiency of artistic expression . . . is not the same as musical style" (STL, 136). The document also includes perspectives from a number of more recent ecclesiastical sources, including the Catechism of the Catholic Church, Pope John Paul II's Letter to Artists, and the U.S. bishops' document on lay ecclesial ministry, Co-Workers in the Vineyard of the Lord.
One significant contribution of STL (and one reason for its length) is that it compiles musical directives and options from nearly every official ritual book in use today, including rituals all too frequently celebrated without any singing—such as the Rite of Baptism of Children and the Vigil and Committal services of the Order of Christian Funerals. Many of these references are decades old. Together they serve as a strong reminder that the work of liturgical renewal must continue. Much remains to be done if singing is to become a necessary or integral part of all liturgical celebrations.
Several of the challenges that STL poses to current practices are not new. For example, the document suggests that Catholics in the United States should be able to sing together in Latin at least several parts of the Ordinary of the Mass. The document recommends simple chant melodies that are "typically included in congregational worship aids" (STL, 75). Recognizing that the singing of chant may be new in many worshipping communities, STL recommends that this priority be considered with "prudence, pastoral sensitivity, and reasonable time for progress" (STL, 74).
The document also addresses a number of pastoral concerns with greater detail than did MCW and LMT. Recognizing that wedding liturgies present "particular challenges and opportunities" (STL, 218) for parish pastors and musicians, STL suggests that liturgical and musical concerns should be addressed by parish ministers with "due pastoral sensitivity and sound judgment" (217). A diocese or parish should have a "definite but flexible policy" (STL, 219) that provides guidance to couples but that allows for pastoral sensitivity regarding wedding music. Such a policy should be communicated to couples early on, so as to avoid last-minute misunderstandings.
Parish musicians are called to reach out to couples preparing for marriage, demonstrating to them "a wide range of music appropriate for the Liturgy" (STL, 218). STL does not rule out the use of outside soloists but indicates that they must receive proper training on the nature of their liturgical role. The document further recognizes that, depending on local custom and the culture of the families, the veiling of the bride and groom "and other customary actions" may be added, during which appropriate music may be sung (STL, 222). Full participation will be encouraged if participation aids are provided for the congregation.
While going into considerable detail on some matters, STL does not address every possible, practical issue. For example, it discusses the importance of music in Catholic schools but does not address the role of music in religious-education programs. In terms of church architecture, STL suggests that acoustics for singing may be enhanced if sound-absorbing materials such as carpeting and pew cushions are avoided. But it does not mention the most fundamental acoustical factor: the size and shape of the building itself.
Those desiring additional detail concerning music and the Order of Mass may wish to consult the complementary liturgical resource, Introduction to the Order of Mass (IOM), "a useful pastoral instrument" issued by the BCL in 2003 for "the specific ecclesial and pastoral context" of the Church in the United States. Reviewed and revised by the Congregation for Divine Worship and Discipline of the Sacraments prior to publication, IOM takes a practical walk through the celebration of the Mass, addressing along the way a number of practical musical matters not discussed in STL. For example, STL indicates that singing or instrumental music accompanies the procession at the Preparation of the Gifts (STL, 173,174). IOM takes into account current practice in the United States, suggesting that "music or song may begin with the collection" (IOM, 105). STL presumes a separate song for the Rite of Sprinkling (STL, 147), while the IOM mentions the possibility of sprinkling during the entrance procession if the Greeting and Blessing of Water have taken place at the door (IOM, 74).
Given the integral role of music in the liturgy and the diversity of cultures and musical styles present in the Church in the United States, Sing to the Lord, like its predecessors, is sure to prompt much comment and discussion in the months and years to come. May such discussion be carefully considered and respectful, leading us to an ever-greater appreciation of the richness of our many musical traditions. May it inspire within us an ever more generous love for the diverse singing assemblies whom we serve.
Sing to the Lord may be downloaded from the Liturgy Department page of the USCCB Web site, www.usccb.org. Introduction to the Order of Mass may be ordered from the USCCB Publications division.